St. Columba: The patron saint of copyleft...

R. A. Hettinga rah@shipwright.com
Thu, 21 Mar 2002 10:40:58 -0500


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Status:  U
Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 10:18:03 -0500
From: Somebody
To: "R. A. Hettinga" <rah@shipwright.com>
cc: Other folks...
Subject: Re: St. Columba: The patron saint of copyleft...




It's a little bit more complex than that and the public benefit aspect is
almost a side effect. In law, however twisted by modern sensibilities,
copyright has its origins in the English Stationers Act of 1556, which
basically established perpetual monopolies for printers of liturgical and
other texts and created a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) scenario that
preserved the status quo and prevented heretical texts ("The King is Devil
Spawn of a Mule's Arsehole!") from influencing and exciting the public.
Stationer companies with copyright could literally hunt down unlicensed
presses and destroy them. Wayward stationers companies could be put out of
business by a swing of the monarch's pen.  (Gosh, does this bear any
resemblence to our FCC?) In 1710, however, the Statute of Anne established
copyrights for *creators* that could be maintained up to twenty-eight
years, after which their works passed into the public domain. This is
really the antecedent of our modern copyright law. Creators got protection
to reward them for their innovative expression and the public was enriched
with new ideas and knowledge. Still, it is important to point out that the
politics of the Statute of Anne were complex, driven not entirely by
unalloyed beneficence. A large part of its motivation was to get control
of "pirate" publishers in Scotland - then only recently incorporated into
the U.K. - who were exporting high-quality texts, undercutting
crown-licensed contemporaries in London.  In other words, there was a
little bit of market influence that nudged this relatively progressive law
into being.  That's what we should be looking for now.  I've been asking
the Scots what they're going to do next to inspire advances in copyright
and they've told me to patient. They'll have an answer any day now.


>
> The facile opposite of copyright is, I suppose, public domain. But then
> copyright was supposedly invented to entice creation into the open that would
> otherwise have remained secret (or un-made), so depending on whose
> politics you subscribe to, the functional opposite of copyright may well
> be "trade secret". Would the monk have lent his manuscript, had he known
> of the intent to copy without compensation?
>
> <Somebody's .sig>
>
> P.S.: Great story.
>
> On Mon, Mar 18, 2002 at 08:17:20AM -0500, R. A. Hettinga wrote:
> > --- begin forwarded text
> >
> >
> > Status:  U
> > From: "Kermit Snelson" <ksnelson@subjectivity.com>
> > To: <nettime-l@bbs.thing.net>
> > Subject: <nettime> the patron saint of copyleft?
> > Date: Sun, 17 Mar 2002 17:49:14 -0800
> > Sender: nettime-l-request@bbs.thing.net
> > Reply-To: "Kermit Snelson" <ksnelson@subjectivity.com>
> >
> > In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, here's a reminder that one of Ireland's
> > other patron saints, Saint Columba, may have pioneered the anti-copyright
> > movement way back in the sixth century (A.D. 555, to be exact):
> >
> >      St. Columba had borrowed from the monk a fine manuscript of the
> > Gospels, and Columba had made a copy of the borrowed book, before returning
> > it.  The monk claimed the copy also as his; the saint disputed this.  His
> > argument in defence reads not unlike the defence made by modern infringers
> > of copyright:  "I confess that the book in question was copied from the
> > manuscript of Finnen.  But it was with my own industry and toil and burning
> > of the midnight oil.  And it was copied with such care that Finnen's
> > manuscript is in no way injured by the act of copying.  Moreover, my object
> > was to preserve more surely the best parts of the book and employ them for
> > the greater glory of God.  Hence I do not admit that I have done any injury
> > to Finnen; nor am liable for restitution, nor am at fault in any way."  But
> > Dermot, the judge, as manuscripts were then new in Ireland, had no exact
> > precedent, and he cast about for the nearest analogy.  He found the Brehon
> > maxim, "With every cow goes its calf", "Le cach boin a boinin"; and so his
> > judgment was in favor of the monk, because "Le cach lebar a lebran", "With
> > every book goes the young of the book". (But the saint, it is recorded, was
> > very angry at this judgment, invoked the power of a rival chieftain against
> > Dermot, and thrashed him well in battle.)  [Wigmore, John H., _A
>Panorama of
> > the World's Legal Systems_, Washington DC, 1936, p. 677]
> >
> > Kermit Snelson
> >
> > #  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
> > #  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
> > #  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
> > #  more info: majordomo@bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
> > #  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime@bbs.thing.net
> >
> > --- end forwarded text
> >
> >
> > --
> > -----------------
> > R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
> > The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
> > 44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
> > "... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
> > [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
> > experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
> >
> >
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<snippage>
>
> --- end forwarded text
>
>
> --
> -----------------
> R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
> The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
> 44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
> "... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
> [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
> experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
>
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-- 
-----------------
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'